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Sandman

Keeping pace with events (RTS)

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(digression from Damage Model thread) One of the problems with RTS''s is that the player is too busy reacting to have time to act . Events often happen very quickly, and since the game is in real time, the player does not have time to mull over his options. Turn based games do not suffer from this, each player has all the time in the world to examine his opponents moves and try to second guess his intentions. How can we bring RTS''s into line with their turn-based cousins? Some of my thoughts: 1. Visibility The standard "Fog of war" model is very flawed in my opinion. Units cannot react to enemy units until they are right on top of them, meaning that the player only has a small amount of time in which to prepare a response. Also, knowledge of the terrain is important too - I think that should be known from the start. Finally, player notification of events - typically the player is not told he is under attack until he starts taking damage. Usually by then it is too late, the attackers have either done their damage or they have been annihilated by my defences. I want to be told as soon as the enemy is detected . Plus I want more realistic lines of sight, so I can see the enemy long before they are in range (unless they are being suitably sneaky) 2. UI simplicity vs detailed orders. This is a tricky one. On the one hand, you really dont have time to deal with a complex interface. On the other hand, if you could specify more detailed orders then there would be less need to "babysit" your units - I personally hate having to flip between 10 different units to make sure they are doing something useful. AoK offered an "extra" interface which had more advanced options, giving you more control - I think something like this is ideal. The complexity is there for people who want to use it, but it is not mandatory for the player to wrestle with it. (having said that, despite AoK''s extra controls, I still lost count of the times my bombard cannons wandered off on their own after some enemy unit, despite being told to stand their ground) 3. Units doing 2 things at once Has anyone else noticed how annoyingly static units in RTS''s are? Is there some unwritten law that states "Though shalt not move and fight at the same time"? While for some units it is understandable, I still see no reason why my heavy cavalry has to bring its full on charge to a halt just to slay a peon that gets in its way. This would also result in less babysitting of units - I would have to tell my units to attack some enemies that intercept them, they would just do it automaticallywithout stopping. As usual, your ideas and feedback are welcome.

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well...

1. remember the good old dune 2? "ordos unit approaching from the north"
and only then "our base is under attacked". if they could do that
ten years ago, they can do that now.
or, a better idea, watch towers. finally those
c&c buildings have use, if you put them, you can
see for distance - thus giving you a fair timed warning.

2&3. well, thats not the user interface fault.
well, maybe, but it should be looked over a different
view:

you suppose to be the leader controlling the forces,
if you tell then to retreat, or to move, no matter
what youll tell them - they will always try to protect
themselves. even by moving or retreating there are
units that are sopposed to cover the others.

what i mean? even that they are units for you to control
they are certainly not brainless.

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1) Knowledge of terrain
This is where scouting becomes an issue.
I''ve always favored the idea of having two armies send out scouts to survey the terrain a few minutes before the actual battle. (you can do all kinds of fancy-smancy stuff with these scouts -better scouts will relay better information faster- but even keeping it simple works) You as the commander won''t get to know EVERY detail of the terrain (unless the scout is some elite expert scout that can survey the entire battlefield in a glance and remember every detail) but you''ll be able to make tactical choices based on your knowledge of the terrain, limited as it may be.

1a) Unit line of sight & co
I guess it depends on what position the player is in. Is he a godlike creature that can be at all places at once, see everything his forces see (command & conquer style), or does he actually have a physical location on the battleground (ala... hmm, don''t know if that''s been done) which would mean, you as the player can only see what he sees, but you can give orders based on incoming messages (you''d be more of a general in a hut, listening to transmissions, putting flags onto a big map to indicate battle progress).
In the first scenario, you CAN have your forces tell you ''we''re under attack'' or something. You can also automatically (optional) zoom to the location of battle or something. If you''re a Godlike creature anything is possible. But I think you should make it a choice to the player. You should think of EVERY possible option the player might want to have and give him the ability to choose which one he wants.
a) just an audio report: ''sir, our northern front is under heavy attack
b) zoom automatically to point of battle: ''sir, our northern...'' ZOOMmmmm ''Ah, there you are, sir. As you can see, we''re under heavy attack.''
c) use multiple windows. The player can edit size and location of each window and keep his eye on as many locations as he wants. Switching between windows could be done with hotkeys.

2) UI simplicity vs detailed orders
I still think it''s best to give users the option to predesign unit bevahiour patterns BEFORE the battle even begins. Put them in groups (as any general would do), tell them what to do during the battle. Give them lots of IF-->THEN commands.
Then during battle, you can see the flow of battle and adjust your plans with simple, big commands. And yes, you should let players play with minimal difficulty but also give players the option to control units in a different, more difficult, but eventually more efficient way.

3) Units doing 2 things at once
I guess it''s all about AI here. I''m really not in a place to make any comments about this. But yes, I HAVE noticed it. And I don''t like it. I just don''t know if there''s a good alternative (without using too much processing power).

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As for the driving&firing think, it is easy to do. Just make the tank two entities, the turret and the chassis. When you tell it to move somewhere, the chassis moves there, and turret ''tags along'' (technicly that is). However, the Turret AI will always scan for possible enemies. And will turn to fire at them. But since the turret can only turn, not move, the tank will still head in the same direction.

Only tricky thing is to tell a unit to attack someone. That gwould imply 2 messages: The Chassis has to follow, and the Turret has to track the same enemy. Still, it should be easy to implement.

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I agree with Ronin, it shouldnt require much of the computer to enable units to do two things at once. It doesnt even have to be complicated interface-wise - all I really want is for my units to defend themselves sensibly while they are on a mission. So if my tanks are attacked on their way to blow up the bridge, they shoot back at their attackers without hindering their progress towards their real mission. With the current state of affairs the unit either stops and has a fight (annoying because you might need it elsewhere in a hurry, or it might be outmatched and bound to lose) or it just carries on going, whilst getting the crap shot out of it. This is particularly annoying when you are trying to attack a unit and you ''miss'' it with the mouse - your unit stops attacking and trundles happily straight into the enemies guns (and usually dies)

Of course, certain units eg artillery, may need a more stable platform from which to fire, and would need to be stationary. Ideally, these should be protected by other units, but even in isolation they would have some light arms which could be fired whilst on the move. Even if it is just a case of the gunner popping his head out of the top and cracking off a few shots with a pistol.

I think I might be getting slightly OT... the point of it is, I dont want to have to babysit every unit in the game. I want it to do what I tell it to do, when I tell it to do it, and deal with unexpected events in a vaguely sensible and realistic manner.

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The only requirement for getting a unit to both path a long distance and attack anything sensible on the way is how much of the CPU you want to use.

If the game just tells the units to move from point a to point b and leaves them alone, it''s a lot less work than having to continually check and recheck the unit line of sight as the units move.

This is the basic difference between the standard move, and the attack stance / patrol in Age of Empires II.

There''s certainly also a gameplay issue of what''s "sensible to attack" because the player might be relying on those heavy cav to get to the battle ASAP.

http://www.ensemblestudios.com

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How about this? Let the player create plans =). Basically, you have a window of some sort, your "planning window". You get a great big map, and you can place units into groups, etc. When this window is open, the game is paused. Allow the player to set paths for units (waypoints, etc), allow the player to either a) predict enemy locations, or b) reveal enemy locations as shown by scouts. This would allow the player to create VERY detailed plans, that could be executed with a click of a button. Perfect pincer strikes, etc.

Second, A more efficient method of warning the player, would use a network of guard towers. When a guard tower sees the enemy approaching, it yells "Enemy Approaching", and shoots a laser beam, signal thingie at the tower that is next closest to the main base, if it is within range/sight, etcetera. When that tower gets the laser, it bounces it along the network, all the way back to the base. So, the player hears "Enemy Approaching", hits the "Center On Base" Hotkey, and follows the path. Perhaps the color of the path could change color to indicate urgency. This would give towers a VERY real use, and would encourage players to use better strategy when using them, etc.

Just my thoughts =).

Z.

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quote:

The only requirement for getting a unit to both path a long distance and attack anything sensible on the way is how much of the CPU you want to use.

If the game just tells the units to move from point a to point b and leaves them alone, it''s a lot less work than having to continually check and recheck the unit line of sight as the units move.



Hmm. I hadnt thought of it like that.... Thats the problem with wishlists, you tend to forget technical issues
There are a few optimisations you could make that might help matters - using some sort of hierchical visibility checking for example, so if you have a big clump of units you save yourself cycles by calculating LOS for the group as a whole rather than doing each individual unit. This could work both ways, so if one of a "group" of enemy units is spotted, the whole lot are. The grouping would probably be based on physical location rather than any player defined grouping... Will have to think about this one....

quote:

This is the basic difference between the standard move, and the attack stance / patrol in Age of Empires II.

There''s certainly also a gameplay issue of what''s "sensible to attack" because the player might be relying on those heavy cav to get to the battle ASAP.



well, anyone who is attacking you is a fair target. This is another possible optimisation, ie. you dont need to recalc the line of sight unless you are being attacked. Close combat only units are a bit of a problem because they wont be able to fight back without being slowed down (most ranged units will be able to shoot on the move) I think a stance based system or urgency setting is the way to go here...

Hmmmm. Ill think some more over the weekend, it''s time to go home...

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1. Visibility could be enhanced if units would have not only a view range value, but a visibility attribute. IE. a scout can only be seen from very close range, while a castle can be seen from accross the map.


Total Annihilation had a superb visibility system. Best I''ve ever seen anyway. It had very good realistic fog of war, like in others RTSs, but the player had _a lot_ of other options for keeping an eye on the battlefield : sonars, radars, fast scout units (some also had built-in radar ; combine these with patrol orders), radar jammers, commander cloaking. Direct visibility was still a very important bonus, but surprise attacks were never a problem. Cheap defenses with long range allowed for in depth defence : the enemy couldn''t even approach an expensive structure without fighting some non-vital defences first.

And in the skirmish fighting, map could be discovered at game-start. That''s how I always play, I find scouting extremely annoying. I might reluctantly accept a black map, but only if scouting would be automated.

Age of Empires was also pretty nice with scouting. In the Castle Age (when the serious fighting stars) players had access to technologies that allowed the buildings to see _very_ far. By building cheap things like scout towers or houses, a player could oversee a large portion of the map.

Scout units had the ability to patrol too, so a carefull player could hardly be caught off-guard.

2 & 3 TA had exquisite UI too, and the units in TA did things on their own. If you gave a bot/tank the order to go somewhere, his legs/main body started walking there, but his upper body/turret kept firing at the enemy (unless you stoped him from firing by a direct order). The fire options ''fire at will'' ''fire back'' and ''hold fire'' where also very usefull.

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I think Silvermyst and Zaei have it right. Break the game into a turn/rts mode where you have a pre-planning phase before the real-time begins. As Silver pointed out, a general gives orders to units but these orders also have "standing" orders. These are general guidelines that units follow.

For example, you could set an aggression level that would set what would happen if a unit were to see an enemy unit while it was given a simple "move" order. You would have to set some kind of priority that a unit would follow...i.e, a unit is set to move to a position, but discovers the path it is set on is offering a ton of resistance. Does it keep following orders or find an alternate path?

Here are some examples:

Reconnaissance: scout for enemy units AVOIDING fights
Force Reconnaisance: scout for enemy units, picking fights as opportunity presents itself
Search and Destroy: scout for enemy units, engage when found
Distract: Lead enemy units away from a position
Interdict: Intercept known enemy forcesby whatever means forcing them off their planned course
Harrassment: Hit and run raids
Assault: Full attack on known positions
Fallback: Organized withdrawal, fighting only to preserve unit
Defensive Fallback: Slowly give up ground fighting defensively while falling back.

Also, I think you will need to code some algorithms that let the units decide what their relative "odds" are. For example, if airborne infantry with no AT weapons comes in contact with some Main Battle Tanks and supporting infantry....I don''t think that unit is going to hold it''s ground to the last man. Matter of fact, it probably won''t even hold its ground unless it''s got VERY high morale and/or good leadership.

Finally, orders are issued to groups, not units. If you order units directly, then it becomes more of a tactical game, not a strategic one. So, how do you assign these orders? Via a mroe complex interface or a pre-planning turn? I think it can be a combination of both.

Man-o-war had a pre-plan phase and once you issued your orders, it went into real-time phase. The interface however was non-existent (given the techbnology of the time, it was fair), but I think you could also have an interface that you could "program" your units to follow. I think the key here is having some pretty intelligent Unit and Leader AI.

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